Welcome pest

By: Emily Etherton

Some strong acting highlights an uneven production of Tracy Letts’ drama Bug, a collaboration between OKC Theatre Company and Ghostlight Theatre Club. It takes a while to get going, but the show hits a thrill bump in the last scene, which is played under the eerie glow of real bug zappers.

Directed by Lance Garrett (good to see him back in harness), the play is set in a seedy motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. Agnes, a shell of a human being, inhabits the room, gulps wine, freebases cocaine and has vodka and Coke for breakfast. Peter, a paranoiac who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, moves in with her, and her life goes downhill from there.

Oh, yes, and her ex-husband, who just got out of prison, drops by every once in a while to slap her around. In other words, it’s a typical day in a seedy motel room on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

You have to give the Tulsa-born Letts credit for writing substantial roles for women, even if the characters are pretty messed-up.

Paula Dawson, who was delightful last year in Carpenter Square Theatre’s Aliens with Extraordinary Skills, plays Agnes with a tormented vulnerability. She nails the drug-addled, slurred speech that reflects Agnes’ chemically induced, muddled thinking and fleshes out her backstory. (References are made to a child who’s been taken from her.) Like Violet Weston of Letts’ August: Osage County, Agnes is a role that lets the actor show her stuff, and Dawson gives a praiseworthy performance. She’s a gifted, risk-taking performer and a joy to see onstage, if disturbing in this work.

Tyler Waits plays the ex-husband, who’s not seen that much, but he makes you believe that this guy, indeed, came straight from behind bars. The character’s a hotheaded, manipulative creep, whom Aggie understatedly calls a “nut.”

Peter is played by Jeff Burleson, who seems to be one of Garrett’s favorite actors. Peter is a difficult character to cast (Michael Shannon played him in the original stage productions and William Friedkin’s inferior 2006 film adaptation). Burleson gives an all-out performance that’s an admirable effort, but Peter must balance with Agnes, and that’s hard to do. (The same thing happened when the excellent Lilli Bassett played her in Carpenter Square’s production of Bug in 2006 opposite the young Brett Rottmayer.)

Scott Hynes’ set design is nice, and his lighting is even better.

When the actors come out for bows at Bug’s end, the floor is slick with stage blood. That tells you a lot about this production.